Beyond the Pleasure Principle: And Other Writings (Penguin by Sigmund Freud

By Sigmund Freud

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18). From the Homeric gods to our current celebrities, the centrality of narcissistic personalities to culture is beyond debate. Without them we might all die from hopelessness, perish of boredom. With them, we alternate from intoxication, sometimes mild, sometimes not, to rank disillusion. Is there any crowd as disconsolate as the one seeping from a starlit Hollywood movie into the sad light of the everyday? The narcissist exploits our longing to be bewitched. They enchant us with the possibility that we are the one who will really share in their glow, or break it down and turn them, as though through a reverse enchantment, once again into a common mortal like ourselves.

But gaps open up too. Mother is distracted and looks away; father fails some elementary test. And into the gap between desire and delivery come fantasy, wish, yearning, and resentment as well. So like all paradises, this one is eventually lost. But to Freud, the psyche is profoundly conservative. He says over and over that we will never willingly give up a satisfying libidinal position once we have inhabited it. If we lose such a position, we will strive to restore it in dreams, in fantasy, through neurosis, or – with every semblance of probity - in what appears to be well-ordered adult life.

Underneath, he suggests, all fathers may be so. They are not to be maligned for their weakness, but understood, forgiven, laughed at and then laughed with. As Falstaff plays the role of Bolingbroke, we understand, so Bolingbroke merely plays the role of king. Hal takes in only a part of this beautiful lesson: he sees that all authority is based on playing, and he resolves to continue as a master player of the primal role. Made wholly sane by Falstaff, he might have tried to make his constituents sane by blending authority and humour in one personage, proving that they need not be separable.

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